Black on black plate with geometric design On sale
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Maria Martinez and Popovi Da, San Ildefonso, Black on black plate with geometric design On sale
Artist: Maria Martinez and Popovi Da
Pueblo: San Ildefonso
Dimensions: 1 in H by 5 3/4 in Dia
Item Number: glsid4140
Price: $ SOLD
Description: Black on black plate with geometric design On sale
Condition: Very good with light surface abrasions
Signature: Maria Popovi
Date Created: 1956-1971
Sale Price: $SOLD
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Maria Martinez

San Ildefonso
Maria Martinez
Feather design on a black on black plate
 

Undoubtedly the world's most famous Native American potter, Maria Montoya Martinez was born in the Tewa pueblo of San Ildefonso around 1887 (her baptism certificate says 1887, she herself thought she might have been 7 at the time). As she grew up, Maria observed her aunt, Nicolasa, and learned the basics of the traditional art of pottery making from her. In the early years of her career, Maria produced the traditional polychrome pottery of her village, generally black and terra cotta decorations painted on a background of white or tan. She shaped her pots the age-old way, by carefully hand-coiling and pinching the clay, then smoothing the inner and outer surfaces with gourd scrapers. Early on her pots were recognized as the thinnest, most beautifully shaped pots being made at San Ildefonso. Her husband, Julian, an accomplished painter of hides, paper and walls, decorated the pots for her, then worked with her in the firing of them.

Maria and Julian were married in 1904 and almost from the beginning of their relationship they were traveling to demonstrate their craft at various fairs and expositions. They spent their honeymoon in 1904 demonstrating pottery making at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition at the St. Louis Worlds Fair. They demonstrated again at the Panama California Expo in San Diego in 1915, the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1934, and the Golden Gate International Expo in 1939. Native American craft fairs provided other marketing opportunities, and by signing her work Maria both heightened her visibility and commanded higher prices. In 1954, she won the Craftsmanship Medal, the nation’s highest honor, from the American Institute of Architects.

Contrary to legend implying that Maria "discovered" the black pottery process, Dr. Edgar Lee Hewett, Professor of Archaeology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and Director of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, found shards of prehistoric black-on-black pottery while excavating in the ruins at Bandelier National Monument in 1908. To preserve and showcase that ancient product Hewett sought a skilled pueblo potter who could re-create that ancient pottery style for him. Everyone he asked referred him to Maria. Together they worked out a deal and he pre-ordered a series of black-on-black pots from her. That led to more than a decade of experimentation, until Maria and Julian were satisfied with their results in recreating that style of black ware. Their method required smothering the fire with manure during the firing process, effectively creating an "oxygen-reduction process" that turned the red pots black. Julian worked out the other half of the "black-on-black" process when he began painting his designs "in the negative," using a matte black slip on the polished pot surface to create his decorations. Once fired, that demonstrated the technique that has become so famous today. Still, Maria wasn't really happy with those first black-on-black pots until Hewett came to visit with some friends and students of his. Those visitors bought virtually every pot Maria had on hand and they encouraged her to make more. Maria responded by refining her process and technique with the clay and the fire. Julian responded by refining his designs and decorations. Together they elevated their art to a level not approached anywhere else for at least 10 years.

According to Susan Peterson in The Living Tradition of Maria Martinez, the six distinct steps involved in the creation of blackware pottery include, "finding and collecting the clay, forming a pot, scraping and sanding the pot to remove surface irregularities, applying the iron-bearing slip and burnishing it to a high sheen with a smooth stone, decorating the pot with another slip, and firing the pot."

Julian faced a challenge in attempting to decorate Maria's pots. The process he finally settled on involved polishing the background first and then applying the matte slip decoration. In 1918, Julian finished the first decorated black ware pot with a matte background and a polished avanyu (horned water serpent) design. Many of Julian's decorations were patterns adopted from ancient vessels of the Pueblos. Some of the patterns consisted of feathers, birds, road runner tracks, rain, clouds, mountains, and zigzags or kiva steps.

As her pots attracted more and more attention for their unique beauty, Maria began to charge modest prices. With the demand for her pots growing, she realized that her work could enrich the lives of the people of her pueblo, artistically and economically. In the ages-old tribal manner, she generously shared her techniques with others. Martinez was the matriarch of a "craft lineage" that continues today. In a career that spanned seven decades, her pottery brought honors and acclaim, revitalizing the art and the economy of San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Even though Julian decorated the pots, Maria claimed all the work in the early years because pottery was still considered a woman's job in the Pueblo. Maria left Julian's signature off their pieces to respect the Pueblo culture until 1925. After that, "Marie + Julian" was the official signature on their decorated pottery until Julian's death in 1943 (and she used "Marie" because Chester Faris, Director of the Santa Fe Indian School, had convinced her that was a name more familiar to the Anglo buying public). Undecorated pots during those years were signed simply "Marie." Maria's family began helping more with the pottery business after Julian's death. From 1943 to 1956 Maria's son Adam took over collecting clay while his wife Santana took over painting decorations. "Marie + Santana" was the signature on their pots. Popovi Da began learning to paint with Santana in 1950 and in 1956 he took over doing most of Maria's painting. The signature became "Maria/Popovi" until 1971 when Popovi passed on. He'd also often been busy with tribal politics during those years and, at times, couldn't keep up with painting Maria's pots. As Maria almost never painted a pot, those pots are plain and signed "Maria Poveka" (Poveka being her Tewa name, meaning: "pond lily"). Today, values on Maria's work vary based on the signature on the bottom, those with "Maria + Popovi" being valued highest.

After making pots for almost 80 years, Maria passed on in 1980.


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Popovi Da

San Ildefonso
Popovi Da and Maria Martinez
A band of feathers around the shoulder of a black on black wedding vase
 

Popovi Da (1922-1971) was the youngest son of Julian and Maria Martinez. He was named Antonio Jose Martinez at birth but changed that legally to Popovi Da (Red Fox) in 1948. He grew up learning to make pottery with his parents while he attended the San Ildefonso school, then Santa Fe Indian School. Among his fellow students at SFIS were Harrison Begay, Quincy Tahoma, Allan Houser, Pablita Velarde and Andy Tsihnahjinnie. It was in their company that he developed really fine technical skills as a painter, jeweler and watercolor artist creating works featuring wildlife, geometric designs and abstract symbolism.

He was drafted by the US Army in 1944 and was stationed at Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project. After he was discharged from the Army, he and his wife Anita returned to San Ildefonso and opened the Popovi Da Studio of Indian Arts. The Studio offered works for sale from many San Ildefonso potters and included a museum of some of the finest works by Popovi's mother and by other fine Native American artists. Popovi served as Director of the School of American Research, Chairman of the All-Indian Pueblo Council and served on the board of the New Mexico Arts Commission during those years. He also served six terms as Governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo.

He began painting pottery with Maria and his sister-in-law Santana around 1950. At first Santana would outline the designs and Popovi would fill them in. In 1956 Maria enrolled him in painting pots full time for her. He also took over the digging and preparing of clay as his father had done before him and became Maria's sole working partner. At that point Maria changed her signature from Marie back to Maria and they signed Maria and Popovi together, and later added a date. It was during those years that he began working to revive the making of polychrome pottery at San Ildefonso after 40 years of producing primarily black-on-black wares. He didn't make a pot alone until 1962. It was after that that he was sometimes too busy with his own pieces, politics and religious affairs of the pueblo to paint for Maria. That was when Maria's signature became Maria Poveka and the pieces were undecorated. However, Popovi's technical decorating skills were so high that his pieces alone and those he made with Maria are among the most valuable and most collectible of all Pueblo pottery.

Popovi was known as the Great Experimenter because he developed the techniques for producing the gunmetal and sienna finishes, both produced by manipulating the firing process. It was Popovi who also is believed to have developed the first turquoise inlay, a technique now employed by maybe 100 different potters in several different tribes. Sgraffito (ie: to scratch) is another technique pioneered at San Ildefonso by Popovi Da as it had never been used before on San Ildefonso pottery.

Popovi began working to revive the San Ildefonso polychrome style in 1956 and entered the first polychrome piece he was happy with in the Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial in 1957. It earned the Best of Class ribbon. In 1967 the Institute of American Indian Art presented the Three Generations show in Santa Fe, NM, and at the US Department of the Interior in Washington, DC, featuring works by Maria, Popovi and Popovi's son Tony Da. Since his untimely death Popovi's work has been featured in several major exhibitions and shows and some of his pieces are in the permanent collections of several major museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and the the Museum Fur Volkerfunde in Berlin, Germany.


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San Ildefonso Pueblo

Sacred Black Mesa
Black Mesa at San Ildefonso Pueblo

San Ildefonso Pueblo is located about twenty miles northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico, mostly on the eastern bank of the Rio Grande. Although their ancestry has been traced as far back as abandoned pueblos in the Mesa Verde area in southwestern Colorado, the most recent ancestral home of the people of San Ildefonso is in the area of Bandelier National Monument, the prehistoric villages of Tyuonyi, Otowi, Navawi and Tsankawi specifically. The area of Tsankawi abuts the reservation on its northwest side.

The San Ildefonso name was given to the village in 1617 when a mission church was established. Before then the village was called Powhoge, "where the water cuts through" (in Tewa). Today's pueblo was established as long ago as the 1300's and when the Spanish arrived in 1540 they estimated the village population at about 2,000.

That village mission was destroyed during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 and when Don Diego de Vargas returned to reclaim the San Ildefonso area in 1694, he found virtually the entire tribe on top of nearby Black Mesa. After an extended siege the two sides negotiated a treaty and the people returned to their village. However, the next 250 years were not good for them. Finally, the Spanish swine flu pandemic of 1918 reduced the tribe's population to about 90. The tribe's population has increased to more than 600 today but the only economic activity available for most on the pueblo involves the creation of art in one form or another. The only other jobs are off-pueblo. San Ildefonso's population is small compared to neighboring Santa Clara Pueblo, but the pueblo maintains its own religious traditions and ceremonial feast days.

San Ildefonso has produced fine ceramic art since early pre-Columbian times. The pueblo is most known for being the home of the most famous Pueblo Indian potter, Maria Martinez. Many other excellent potters have produced quality pottery from this pueblo, too, among them: Blue Corn, Tonita and Juan Roybal, Dora Tse Pe and Rose Gonzales. Of course the descendants of Maria Martinez are still important pillars of San Ildefonso's pottery tradition. Maria's influence reached far and wide, so far and wide that even Juan Quezada, founder of the Mata Ortiz pottery renaissance in Chihuahua, Mexico, came to San Ildefonso to learn from her.

San Ildefonso Pueblo location map


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Pottery Care & Consideration

  • The most obvious tip: Yes, the pots will break if you drop them!
  • Do not expose pottery to water (Inside or outside). Do not wipe with a damp cloth.
  • Dust pottery only with a soft, smooth cloth (no terry cloth or textured fabric). A very soft paintbrush (sable or camel) can be used.
  • Always use two hands to carry your pot: one on top and one on the bottom, or one hand on each side. Be careful with handles, they can be fragile. Do not grip or lift pots by the rim. Take care when wearing jewelry, rings can scratch the finish.
  • Place a piece of felt or cloth between the pot and the shelf to protect the signature.
  • Avoid exposing pottery to extreme temperature changes.

For those who live in "earthquake country" (also good for mischievous pets):

  • Weigh pots down with a small zip lock bag containing sand, glass marbles, rice, etc. Do not fill the pot more than one third full as you want them bottom heavy. Remember to remove the weight before moving.
  • Secure your shelves; make sure they are well attached to the walls. Shelf brackets should be of sufficient length and strength to support the weight of your pottery.
  • Prevent pots from sliding. Consider attaching a small wooden molding to the front of shelves. Line shelves with non-slip material (a thin sheet of rubber foam, Styrofoam sheeting, etc.)
  • If you need assistance with special problems, major cleaning (your grandchild spills ice cream on your pot), restoration or repair (the cat breaks a pot), or replacement (irreparable damage), please feel free to call us.

We hope these ideas help you maintain the beauty and value of your pottery for years of enjoyment.

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